Leonard Cohen was the consummate American poet. For starters, he wasn’t actually American at all, but Canadian — he moved to New York in the 1960s to try to make it as a singer — and in the truest American tradition, he took the gaze afforded to the outsider and cast it scrupulously on his new land. “The cradle of the best and of the worst,” he called it once.
He’s been compared to Ginsberg, but Whitman might be more apt: his themes were universal; his psalms were epic. Over a musical career that spanned just under half a century, Cohen — his voice never not gravelly — sang of sex, of God, of sadness, and, yes, of death.
He died Thursday night, at the age of 82. In the New Yorker’s sweeping profile of him, published last month, he said he was “ready to die”; a few days later, at a listening party for his 14th and final album You Want it Dark, he decided out loud that he’d instead stick around until he was 120.